Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Also, Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. Marin Alsop, Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.555714.

When I reviewed it over a decade ago, my impression of Marin Alsop's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's ever-popular Fourth Symphony was not entirely favorable, at least, not at first. The opening movement seemed lax, if not entirely leaden. Transitions never seemed to have much continuity and nothing seemed to have much zip. Naxos's live, close-up, mid bass-heavy sound didn't help this impression, making everything appear that much more ponderous. However, by the time the two final movements rolled around, Ms. Alsop started to hit her stride, and the symphony reached its customary fiery levels of excitement.

I don't know. Maybe because Ms. Alsop begins more slowly than I expected, she intensifies the overall effect. Nevertheless, for comparison purposes, I put on several competing recordings, including Monteux and Boston Symphony (JVC), Szell and the LSO (Decca), Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic (Chandos), Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra (Decca), Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG), and Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips). I found all of these performances and their sound preferable in almost every respect to the Naxos disc. Not only were the performances crisper and more pointed, the sound appeared better focused as well. Add to that the fact that orchestras like the Concertgebouw and Berlin Philharmonic make the Colorado Symphony sound like a much-smaller ensemble--and I say this with no disrespect intended toward the Colorado Symphony, which plays quite well. Anyway, maybe you get the idea.

Marin Alsop
Be that as it may, I know what you're going to say: comparisons are unfair. People like Monteux, Szell, Karajan, and Haitink are the more-notable conductors in this work, and they have the advantage of some of the truly great orchestras of the world; and, after all, is it fair to compare the relatively inexpensive Naxos disc to these other big names?

Fair enough, and for a low-cost recording, the Naxos disc is fine. With its coupling of the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, it makes a decent bargain. Besides, I doubt that one can even find all of the comparison discs I've mentioned, the Haitink disc not even issued anymore. Still, when you consider the alternatives, I'm not sure Alsop is entirely in the running, price advantage or not.

I suppose it all comes down to why a person might be considering buying the Naxos disc in the first place. If it's as a primary and only purchase, I should think any of the aforementioned conductors would be better choices. If it's to supplement a Tchaikovsky fan's collection of Fourths, then Alsop's rendering makes a good, fairly inexpensive option.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa